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Inside The Psychology of Radical Healing Collective

by Ashley Lawrence / Jul 7, 2020

Dr. Helen A. Neville

We recently spoke with Department of Educational Psychology and African American Studies professor Helen A. Neville, founder of the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective, a group of psychology scholars and practitioners who work at the intersections of social justice, culture, ethnicity, race, and healing.

The Collective publishes a blog series for Psychology Today that speaks to timely topics, looking to share frameworks for radical healing and hope for individuals and communities dealing with racial, cultural, and ethnic traumas. Here, Dr. Neville shares more about the origins and purposes of the group’s endeavors.

Q: How did the Collective come to be, as it now exists?

Helen Neville: While I was on a Fulbright (grant) doing research in Tanzania, I had an opportunity to reflect on the profound impact that living in a racially oppressive society has on one’s overall wellbeing—psychological, physical, mental. Because in Tanzania, while other social issues may exist, racism and racial oppression is not an issue. It was liberating to live an academic year there, where I didn’t have to see daily racist microaggressions and be reminded by these larger structural issues that create racial inequality. That I could kind of escape that in a way.

Simultaneously, while in Tanzania I was running for the position of president of Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race) within the American Psychological Association (APA). As president, I wanted to focus on the idea of racial healing. Not the same idea of racial reconciliation and how white people and people of color (POC) can heal our wounds. While noteworthy, that was not my focus. My emphasis was asking: what can Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) do to promote healing within ourselves and within our communities?

When I became president of Division 45, I decided my theme for the year would be promoting healing through social justice. Next, I recruited some fabulous people to join me—the “Dream Team”—to flesh out this theme. This is who eventually became the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective: UI Educational Psychology alumni Dr. Jioni Lewis and Dr. Bryana French; Dr. Hector Adames and Dr. Nayeli Chavez of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Dr. Della Mosley from the University of Florida, and Dr. Grace Chen, a practitioner in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We came together and said, ‘let’s think through and develop a model for healing identity-based wounds’. The team wrote a journal article published in The Counseling Psychologist, proposing a Psychological Framework of Radical Healing in communities of color. The framework is influenced by other psychologists and educational researchers, especially the previous work of Lillian Comas-Diaz and Shawn Ginwright (author of the book Black Youth Rising). Later in 2019, the Collective wrote a second article on the concept of Radical Hope in Revolting Times, which was published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

But we wanted to find a way to communicate to people both inside and outside of the realm of psychology, which is how we decided to do the blog—it’s a way to more broadly disseminate information about the Psychology of Radical Healing, and ultimately potentially help more people.

In addition to the articles and the blog entries, we have created a free, downloadable Radical Healing Syllabus for those interested in teaching a course in this area, too.

The Collective plans to continue conducting research in this area and to develop interventions to promote radical healing.

Q: When did the blog series at the Psychology Today website begin, and what has the reaction and reception been so far, overall?

HN: Our first Psychology Today blog entry was in March of 2019, so about 16 months ago. We’ve received lots of incredible feedback so far. Each of us shares the blog through social media, and people have responded quite well and said it’s helpful in terms of both individual and community healing. And that this idea of justice is an essential component to the healing process. To date, we have seven blog entries on the website.

Our first paper published in Counseling Psychologist on the Psychology of Radical Healing, of which alumni Bryana French and Jioni Lewis are the lead authors, is the journal’s most-read article in the last six months. The manuscript has currently been downloaded more than 4,500 times. We are pleased to see the work is resonating with people.

The Collective’s initial blog entries generally explored radical healing and radical self-care. Other blog entries have addressed specific communities, including LGBTQ+ BIPOC, immigrants, and Arab, Middle Eastern-North African (MENA) communities; we invited UI graduate student Amir Maghsoodi to serve as lead author on the latter blog entry. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve had more specific blog entries. One is this notion of radical healing at this particular time of COVID-19. Another entry, right after Breonna Taylor was killed and before a lot of attention was drawn to her story, was “#SayOurNames: Radical healing for Black women and gender expansive folx.” Healing for black women in this moment, when they’re both being killed and affected and impacted by health inequities, is very important.

One thing I feel that I should stress is that the Psychology of Radical Healing is a true collective and we write as a collective. What will happen is one person will say, ‘I have an idea I want to write about’ and they’ll write about it, then they’ll work with one or two others in our group to add to it, then share the whole blog entry with the entire team and we’ll all provide feedback and go through the editorial process together. We do have differences of opinion, and we often have to talk through these differences. It really is a collective process, a collective way of thinking.

Q: Why is the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective meaningful to you? What do you see as its role or significance for others, amidst social and political unrest over racial injustices?

It’s important to me a couple of reasons. One, BIPOC need a space to unpack some of the racial trauma that they have experienced in the context of the United States. I think that is meaningful, that healing in and of itself, and creates opportunities for us to create connection. Two, it’s meaningful for me as a psychologist and a black studies scholar, to blend my two main disciplines—my training allows me to focus on community and other systems. What’s exciting to me is the ability to focus on the importance of us intervening on the community level in order to promote healing. The idea of healing is a multi-systemic approach. This larger conceptualization of healing provides space for mental health researchers and practitioners to work in collaborations with others to address critical issues related to injustices, which are the root causes of many of our wounds – racial and economic injustices and how they interface with other forms of oppression, including oppression against girls, women, and gender non-conforming people as well as LGBQ folx.

It has been meaningful for me to work with others to develop a social justice healing paradigm; one that is built on a long legacy of scholarship and one that can be useful to community members in helping them not only deal with trauma, but also supporting their agency to make a difference in their own communities.

Since working on radical healing, I try to promote healing in all of the work that I do. For example, the research itself—my process of researching, interactions with folx—that should be healing. Research team members and participants alike should find the research process affirming. In this way, the actual practice of the research is healing for communities, in addition to the topic of the work being healing.

Learn more and subscribe to the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective’s Healing through Social Justice blog at the Psychology Today website.